J. Robert Spencer
It was a week before Christmas, and J. Robert Spencer was trying to find a parking spot in New York City.
He was back home after being on tour since August, he explained via phone.
In about two and a half years, The Midtown Men have done around 200 shows - from concerts to corporate events to fundraisers.
Spencer said he had off until the show hit the road again Dec. 28 through June. The schedule includes a Jan. 17 stop in York, which will be another homecoming for Spencer.
He said many family members and friends, most of whom still know him as Bobby, have told him they'll be at the show.
Spencer graduated from Central York High School in 1987. A few years and countless auditions later, he landed the role of Rum Tum Tugger in an off-Broadway production of "Cats." About a decade of other shows and touring productions followed before he hit the Broadway stage in "Jersey Boys" Nov. 6, 2005.
Spencer starred as Nick Massi, the bass vocalist of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. The musical, which also starred Christian Hoff, Michael Longoria and Daniel Reichard, became a sensation and earned Spencer a Tony nomination.
After hundreds of performances and a national tour, Spencer left "Jersey Boys" in 2008 for the Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Next to Normal."
But demand for "Jersey Boys" - and the music of the era - didn't fade. During the show's run, Spencer said the cast frequently got calls about performing at private concerts and events. At that time, they were only allowed to do Four Seasons tunes.
But the cast dreamed about doing a show that encompassed more '60s music - from British invasion to Motown. When the other three members started organizing a tour, they called Spencer.
"As long as it's not a wedding band," he told them.
And The Midtown Men was born. But Spencer said it's not just a song, dance and bow.
"For us, being entertainers is not all we wanted to do," he said. By creating their own concert event, which is not affiliated with "Jersey Boys," the cast flexed its entrepreneurial muscles. The show is a cross between standup and VH1's "Behind the Music" - with a seven-piece band and vocal harmonies.
It's four best friends sharing stories about their experiences on and off stage, Spencer added. And for a kid who grew up on Johnny Carson, Sammy Davis Jr. and Steve Martin, Spencer finds it a good fit.
It's still hard for him to believe that he gets to do things like perform at the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony.
After The Midtown Men sang at the event last month, members chatted backstage with Jason Mraz and The Fray. Spencer said he's awed to find that other musicians are Midtown Men fans.
"They know how hard the work is," he said. "There is something satisfying ... to do what you love to do and be proud of what you do and to know that (it) has a high respect ... around the world."
Spencer said it's a perk that comes with constant travel and an ever-expanding agenda. Touring with friends and a talented band also makes things easier. The show must go on whether or not the cast members have voices. Spencer said he lost his before a show in Texas last year.
"We make it work," Spencer said. "If one of us is sick, we have plenty of songs, so we alter the show."
That gives the ailing singer a break that no one in the audience can detect. But, in York, Spencer said he plans to be in top form.
He said he'd talk about the last time he performed in the area, which was about 25 years ago. At the time, he was a 17-year-old York Little Theatre regular.
"Expect to have a really good time," Spencer said. "By the end of it, you will be on your feet."
And Spencer was on his after scoring a parking space last month. He was off to face a tough crowd - holiday shoppers.
J. Robert Spencer's highlights of 2012
About a year ago, Spencer said The Midtown Men met with the CEO of Hugo Boss. The company helped design and tailor five suits for each group member, including tuxedos. Hugo Boss also outfitted the band, he added.
"I like wearing a good-looking suit," Spencer said. "It transports people back to the time."
Little Kids Rock:
The Right to Rock Celebration commemorated Little Kids Rock's 10th anniversary in October. The Midtown Men performed, as did Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello and Darlene Love.
Spencer said the experience - singing with a 40-piece band, sharing the stage with stars and helping promote music education - was humbling.
"It was just one of those amazingly surreal moments," he added.
Steve Van Zandt, of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, wrote the holiday single "All Alone on Christmas" and The Midtown Men recorded it. It was released Nov. 13, and Spencer said proceeds from all iTunes downloads through the holiday season went to the Red Cross for Hurricane Sandy relief.
If you go
See The Midtown Men 7:30 p.m. Jan. 17 at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center, 50 N. George St., York. Tickets cost $49, $54 and $59. For details and tickets, call 717-846-1111 or visit mystrandcapitol.org.
The Midtown Men: themidtownmen.com
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